Canada take the field for their first match in the World Cricket League Division 2 tournament on Saturday – 9:30 am in Namibia, and a very early morning in Canada (with a 6 hour time difference, that’s 3:30 am in central Canada).
The first match is against Hong Kong, followed on Sunday by Oman, Namibia on the 23rd, PNG on the 24th, and the USA next Friday. With five matches in seven days, fitness and squad depth are likely to be major factors. The play-offs are scheduled for the 27th, but really are of little consequence- the critical task for Canada is to finish in the top four, which earns ODI status, and a spot in the WCL League 2. This means a two year programme of one day internationals against Scotland, Nepal, UAE and the other qualifiers- and more ICC funding. This is a critical tournament for Cricket Canada – a finish in the bottom two spells a significant failure for development efforts, the strategic plan, and will severely impact the future of the organization in terms of funding.
Namibia is familiar territory for Canada – in February 2018 they had qualified for the last WCL Division 2 tournament thanks to a strong performance in the 2017 Division 3 qualifier in Uganda. Canada placed third, failing to advance to the World Cup qualifier, after a heart-breaking last ball loss to Nepal.
the team to that point had played well, beating Kenya, UAE, and Oman, and losing to Namibia.
The big change in the Canadian team since then is the addition of Davy Jacobs to the team, replacing Nitish Kumar as captain, and displacing Hamza Tariq as first-choice keeper. Jacobs has vast experience, playing 91 first class and 112 list A matches in his native South Africa, as well as representing the Mumbai Indians in the IPL. He will be supported by a brand new coach, Monty Desai, appointed to the team only a couple of months ago. The batting in the 2018 Division 2 tournament depended on Kumar, Wijeyeratne, Dhaliwal and Gunasekera, and they will be there in 2019, along with 2018’s top bowlers Dutta, Pervez, Saad Bin Zafar, and Heyliger. Satsimranjit Dhindsa is missing from the squad this time, and there will be hopes that Romesh Eranga, who performed well in last fall’s matches against the USA will be effective. Bhavindu Adhihetty is a young player of much promise but has disappointed in recent outings for the national team – it is hoped he will return to the form seen for the national team in the Division 3 tournament. Hiral Patel returns to the team after a long absence. Comments on-line (which as usual should be taken with a large dose of salt) criticise Canada for leaving out the 40-year old captain Rizwan Cheema. The intensive schedule, plus inconsistency in the 50 over game, likely led to his omission.
The experience of local conditions will be helpful, and Cricket Canada has made efforts to provide warm weather training in Sri Lanka and South Africa prior to the tournament, although there may be questions in regard to the quality of opposition faced in practice games (Cricket Canada suggested a practice match against Afghhanistan A was scheduled). It is difficult for Canadian cricketers to turn up ready for a major tournament at the end of the Canadian winter, where practice and training can be challenging.
Update: The Cricket Canada Facebook page indicates that the team played three practice matches, with a match against Afghanistan A rained off after Canada had made a good start, and a no result and a win against the North West DRagons.
This will not be an issue for the hosts, Namibia, Hong Kong, PNG, or Oman who are all coming off full seasons of cricket. The USA team however faces similar issues to Canada. They had an extensive stint in the UAE, with matches against Lancashire and a UAE development squad, and are in Zimbabwe prior to the tournament.
These seems likely to be a highly competitive tournament, with the top four anything but predictable. The USA are a rapidly improving team, showing they are more than capable of beating Canada in the fall series in North Carolina, and cruising through the WCL Division 3 qualifying tournament in October, losing only to Oman. Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong drop down after placing 9th and 10th in the 2018 World Cup qualifier. Both were competitive in a strong tournament, Hong Kong beating Afghanistan, and PNG taking Ireland to the last over.
Canada’s best hopes of securing a top four finish are probably wins over Oman and the USA, but these will not be easy matches- it seems to be a tournament where any match can be decided by a strong performance on the day.
It is anticipated that the ICC and CricInfo will provide live coverage, and there may well be live streaming available.